Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

En route to the Red River Valley of Minnesota November 6, 2018

Somewhere on a back road between Detroit Lakes and Hendrum.


TRAVELING NORTHWEST TOWARD the Red River Valley from Detroit Lakes last Thursday morning, I thought I was mentally prepared for the vastness, the flatness that define this area. I am, after all, a native of the southwestern Minnesota prairie. And I’ve been to Fargo-Moorhead, which is tabletop flat.


Trucks hauling crops are the most common vehicles on roads in these parts this time of year.


But this route was different. This nearly 1.5 hour drive took Randy and me off the interstate and onto back county roads and state highways as we aimed toward Hendrum in Norman County. At times we drove for endless miles without sighting another vehicle. It’s unsettling to feel such isolation, to know that you are miles between towns, that the distance between farm places stretches farther and farther.


Our route took us through several small towns, including Borup just 20 miles southeast of Hendrum.


Yet, I tried to make the best of this drive to visit friends who once lived in Faribault. A job relocated the family of seven to this town of 300 some 30 miles north of Fargo-Moorhead along U.S. Highway 75.


Mountains of sugar beets are prevalent in this region.


As we headed toward Hendrum, Randy and I, both Minnesota farm-raised, observed the progress of harvest—seemingly slowed by too much rain. In places, mud from farm equipment stamped the roadway and signs warned of slippery surfaces. Acres and acres of corn remain to be harvested. Muddy conditions, however, apparently don’t stop the picking of sugar beets, a major crop in this region. Our friends’ oldest son works at a sugar beet plant as he saves money to attend a college in Washington, D.C. I can only imagine the cultural shock of moving from remote northwestern Minnesota to our nation’s capital.


Clusters of grain bins are common in this agricultural area.


This is an area that truly is Red River Valley flat, that seems to an outsider rather desolate. But, framed in a positive way, it is a peaceful place. Wide. Spacious. Uncluttered by traffic and housing developments.



It is a land marked by grain bins and by small town elevators, which can be seen for miles—seven miles once, Randy noted.



It is a land marked, too, by rectangles of stacked bales rising like barges along our route toward the Red River.



Here the land and sky seem endless.



Here agriculture anchors the economy.



Although I couldn’t live here given the flatness, the remoteness, I can appreciate that others call this place home.

TELL ME: Have you been to the Red River Valley of Minnesota or neighboring North Dakota?

RELATED: Check out this story (click here) by Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio about a Sugar Beet Museum in Minnesota.

CHECK BACK as I take you into Hendrum. You won’t want to miss the humor of Hendrum.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


28 Responses to “En route to the Red River Valley of Minnesota”

  1. Ruth Says:

    That is some flatness. In my world we don’t even think of sugar beets but there they are, piled up to the sky! And a museum? I’ll check out that link. I appreciated the tour. I can feel it. The remoteness, your observations shared. It reminds me of driving to southern Illinois where my father was born- in Farmersville.

  2. It is simple and beautiful. However, I am use to densely populated and might be tooooo much space for me. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  3. Lynne King Says:

    You weren’t too far from me on your trip. We live in Alvarado, MN. We sit near the border of North Dakota, just 6 miles to the west. Grand Forks is 20 miles to the South. We are an hour south of Canada and yes, it’s very flat and in the winter, can seem very desolate. But there’s beauty to be found. The wildlife is amazing, the lakes are an beautiful color if blue and the sight of the combines in the autumn sunset can be quite beautiful. Our beet harvest is done. We didn’t get quite as much rain as those south of us.

  4. On my dad’s side, they come from Bottineau, ND. I went to school at NDSU in Fargo. My son was born in Detroit Lakes and my cousins live in Minnetonka. My kids graduated from UND (traitors). I am enjoying this little bit of home here! Thanks Audrey.

    • Ah, then, you are quite familiar with this region. I’ll be posting some images from Detroit Lakes, where we stayed for several days last week in a lakeside condo. Friends had a time share and offered us the days they couldn’t use. It was a first for us and we loved being on the lake.

      My son attended NDSU for a year before transferring to Tufts University in greater Boston. He did not like Fargo, especially the wind. And with the campus on the edge of town, the wind blasts right across the university grounds. You likely remember that. He is definitely not a prairie person. He thrives in an urban environment with great mass transit and in a tech-based city.

      Thanks for sharing about your Minnesota-North Dakota connections.

      • Much like your son, I finished my four year degree in 3 years just because of the wind and snow. I had been raised in far south Georgia and had never seen snow! I cried every day! I fled to south Mississippi and never looked back! lol

      • Caleb could have finished in three years had he stayed at NDSU given he had a year of college completed when he graduated from high school. But when he transferred to Tufts University, many of those credits were not accepted. The wind is relentless in Fargo. And even though Boston has harsh winters, Caleb likes it there. So different from Fargo and Minnesota.

        I have to ask: How did you end up going to college at NDSU?

      • My father and mother made a deal when they were married. My dad’s family was first generation from Scotland and Norway and settled in Bottineau, ND. My mother’s family is old old Charleston, SC. We would be raised in Georgia and go to college at my fathers alma mater. I thought it was going to be like White Christmas. It was not. lol

      • Ah, that explains it. No, winter is not like White Christmas. As a native Minnesotan, I’ll agree with that. I loved winter as a child, but not so much as an adult. But family keeps me here. Minnesota is home.

      • Minnesota is special to me too. My favorite great-aunt and her family lived there and still do. My son lives in Grand Forks now and teaches and one lives in Grafton.

      • Then you definitely do have that connection to this region of the country. My husband’s youngest brother and family live in Grand Forks.

  5. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    Thank you for taking me on a trip I would never have time to take, OUR real America. Love MPR reporting. I also found Supreme Court refused to hear net neutrality…grrrr https://www.mprnews.org/story/2018/11/05/npr-supreme-court-wont-review-decision-that-ok-d-obama-era-net-neutrality-rules

  6. Philip Holum Says:

    I live east of the Red River Valley, but have been there in the winter. It is actually quite beautiful. A lot of people from all over gather at the annual Christmas concert at Concordia in Moorhead and it is very festive, Maybe the harshness makes the people a little warmer when you meet them. Like the kid at the sugar beet plant, I also experienced leaving MN for Washington DC to attend college. When I graduated I was glad to come back.

    • Thanks for that tip to the Christmas concert at Concordia. That sounds a bit like the St. Olaf concert in Northfield.

      There is beauty in any place, really, if we choose to see it.

      I felt as you did upon traveling to Boston for our son’s college graduation 2 1/2 years ago. It was nice to visit. But I was happy to get out of the city and back to the open space of rural areas. It will be interesting to see how our friend’s son likes DC and whether he returns to MN. My son remains in greater Boston. But he’s flying in this weekend for a short visit.

  7. Even with the stark & barren (at least my point of view) landscape, you still manage to find beauty with your camera lens. Nicely done. 🙂

  8. Brenda R Says:

    As a child our family went on a road trip to the Red River Valley and surrounding area. It was interesting to see the next town down the road as soon as you left the previous one! The flatness is amazing to experience! My brother Steve’s son Brent is a sunflower breeder for the USDA in Fargo on the NDSU campus. They don’t particularly care for the prairie winds in the winter but you go where your job takes you! We stopped in late August a few years ago and got to visit his test plot which was VERY interesting!

  9. Beck Says:

    I am so happy to get a glimpse of Tammy, Jesse, and the kid’s world. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.